What is Access to Justice and How Do I Get it?

By Chyanne Sharma, Articled Student

Access to justice is a concept that many people have heard of but for some reason many neglect. It is about having access to processes, institutions, and laws in order to pursue one’s rights and interests. Many people think about access to justice in terms of being able to have fair access to the court system, but it goes beyond that. It is also about the integrity of the justice system as a whole and the rule of law.

We know that there is a serious access to justice problem in Canada, especially in family law. Too many people do not have the funds to retain a lawyer and do not qualify for legal aid programs. This has led to a situation in which in some Canadian jurisdictions over 70% of civil claims involve at least one self-represented person. When one side has a lawyer and the other doesn’t, chances are the side with a lawyer will be successful. Also, many people who are representing themselves in court do not understand the confusing processes, which can lead to applications being thrown out. This all leads to a feeling of unfairness which contributes to a distrust of the justice system.

While most conversations around access to justice are based on the barriers of the judicial system, many professionals and legal organizations have responded to the issue by making different types of resources and legal services available to help close the gap.

Access to justice can be interpreted in different ways. At the root of it, access to justice often refers to the social context of our court system. Meaning, the systemic barriers that different people face. These discussions often include the right to appear in court, advocacy for those who cannot afford it, reforming the justice system, equality of outcomes, and the future of access to justice. In a speech given by the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C. Chief Justice the Supreme Court of Canada, “Access to Justice: A Societal Imperative”, he defines access to justice as;

“’Access to justice’ can mean many things. Having the financial ability to get legal assistance when you need it. Being informed of your right to counsel when your liberty is at stake. Having courts that can resolve your problem on time. But it also means knowing what tools and services are available, and how to get to them. It means knowing your rights and knowing how our legal systems work. It can even mean seeing people like yourself represented in all parts of the legal system…."

What resources are available? 

The first and most obvious concern to many people is cost. Legal services are expensive, so what resources are available to those who are self-represented litigants?

Unbundled Services:

Unbundled services are those in which a lawyer provides their services for part of a client’s matter rather than the whole file. This allows clients to access more affordable services and has the potential to remove barriers to access to justice for those who need help with their legal matter but cannot afford the full scope of a lawyer’s services. Unbundling allows the client to decide which tasks they will conduct on their own and which tasks they would like the lawyer to assist with. This type of legal service is especially helpful for self-represented litigants who are unable to afford to retain legal counsel.

Legal Coaching: 

Legal coaching is a type of unbundled service, where a lawyer also known as a “legal coach” offers behind the scenes guidance in order to provide self-represented litigants with the strategies and tools they need to present their case in court, mediation or arbitration. A legal coach can provide their clients with a number of different services such as:

  • Advice on drafting pleadings
  • Assessment of the strength and weaknesses of your case
  • Assistance with submissions to the court
  • Strategic guidance
  • Tips for handling yourself in court
  • Guidance with navigating the family court system
  • Legal advice and legal research
  • Reviewing and edits to court documents
  • Guidance with negotiating settlement offers.

Online Legal Resources:

Clicklaw is a resource available to residents of BC and is aimed at enhancing access to justice in BC that provides helpful legal information and education for the public.

Justice Education Society of BC
The Justice Education Society of BC creates innovative programs and resources that improve access to justice in BC. Not only do they offer legal publications, but they also provide instructional videos and legal guides for family law matters.

Family Law in BC
Family Law in BC is a website maintained by Legal Aid BC that provides legal information and resources covering a wide range of family law issues. They provide self-help guides, fact sheets and current family law information to self-represented litigants.

MyLawBC is built and maintained by Legal Aid BC. It offers guided pathways by using an interactive question and answer approach to help provide you with a solution to your legal matter. They offer guided pathways for matters such as separation, divorce, family orders, abuse & family violence.

Family Court Assistance
In Alberta, individuals can contact a family court counsellor to assist with preparing for court or resolving a parenting dispute. This service is specifically for those who are self-represented litigants.

Alberta Justice – Family Law Assistance
This website offers various law kits for family court and mediation as well as guides on how to respond to a Divorce Act or Family Law Act Application. Alberta Justice – Resolution and Court Administration Services (RCAS)This service proves a range of resolution and court support for parties involved in family law matters such as legal information, resolving legal disputes, and navigating the court system. They have even created a series of divorce videos to assist Albertans who are working on their own divorce. 

Represent Yourself with us in Your Corner

At Coach My Case, we believe that everyone deserves access to justice, and we have designed our services to be flexible and meet the needs of people who choose to represent themselves. Whether you are working with one of our legal coaches or paralegal navigators, we can provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to represent yourself better and achieve a better outcome in court, mediation, or arbitration. Contact us today for your free 20-minute consultation with a Coach My Case team member.